New York City Style Pizza

IMG_4637-682x10241.jpgIf you truly love pizza, then you already know that there are only three places in the world to enjoy it in it’s purest form: Southen Italy, Chicago and New York City. I am partial to New York City Pizza whether it is from  John’s in the Village or Lombardi’s on Spring Street or Patsy’s in East Harlem.

New York-style pizza is pizza made with a characteristically large hand-tossed thin crust, often sold in wide slices to go. The crust is thick and crisp only along its edge, yet soft, thin, and pliable enough beneath its toppings to be folded in half to eat. Traditional toppings are simply tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.

With the influx of Neapolitan immigrants in the 1890s, pizza arrived in American and was sold on the streets New York City. Unlike those from the old country of Italy, these super-size specimens  were baked in coal-fired (not wood-fired) ovens and evolved into the domainant style of pizza that is eaten in  the New York Metropolitan Area states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and  is variously popular throughout the United States. Regional variations exist throughout the Northeast and elsewhere in the U.S. In New Haven, Connecticut the best pizza houses are   Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, also known as “Pepe’s” and Sally’s Apizza.

 

In unraveing the culinary history or New York-style pizza, it really began with a man named Filippo Milone, an immigrant pizzaiolo (pizza maker) from Naples, who probably arrived in American in 1892. In about or around 1897, he opened a grocery store on 47 Union Street,  in Red Hook (Brooklyn).  By 1898, Filippo Milone was now going by  the Anglicized name, Phil Malone. Malone established another business at 53½ Spring Street,  in Manhattan. He applied for  permit for a coal-fired bake oven in the summer of 1898 and six years later, he was licensed to sell pizza by New York State establishing the first of many pizzerias.

In 1905 Gennaro Lombardi received a business license to operate a pizzeria restaurant, at 53½  Spring Street location in New York City’s Little Italy. It is unclear as to whether Lombardi’s was actually a franchise belonging to Phil Malone or if Malone sold the business he established to Lomadari.  At this location Lombardi also began selling tomato pies wrapped in butcher paper and tied with a string at lunchtime to workers from the area’s factories. Soon Lombardi had a clientele that included the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.

 

 

Anthony (Totonno) Pero came to America in 1903 and  began working  at Lombardi’s in tonnato.jpgLittle Italy. As an employee of Lomabardi’s, Pero also began making  tomato pies that closely resemble the NYC style pizza we know today. Pero sold  the pies for five cents each. Many people, however, could not afford a whole pie and instead would offer what they could in return for a corresponding sized slice. In 1924, Totonno left Lombardi’s  and followed the path of  the expanding New York City Subway lines to open his own pizzeria on Coney Island, called Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana. The pizzerias was not only famous for it’s pies, but was well known for it  unusual business hours, it only closed whenever the dough ran  out!

In 2009, Totonno’s was awarded one of the highest awards in the culinary industry….the James Beard Award– in the category of America’s Classics.

 

1450209408.pngBy 1929 John Sasso opened John’s Pizzeria on Sullivan Street, in the Heart of Greenwich Village. After losing his lease on Sullivan Street,  Sasso dismantled his original coal fired brick oven and moved it to 278 Bleecker Street where he continued to run and grow his business and refine his pizza recipe to perfection.

Sasso ran his business until 1954 when he sold the pizzeria to the Vesce Brothers. Augustine (Chubby) Vesce bought the business from his brothers and he continued to own and operate John’s pizzeria until he passed away in 1984, passing his legacy on.

John’s is still family owned and operated and we are honored to have the opportunity to continue serving our world famous Pizza. The “Hallmarks” of John’s of Bleecker St. are the coal fired brick ovens that churn out hundreds of crispy pizza’s daily. It’s a different world from what it was in 1929, but John’s is still making the same traditional coal fired pizza in the oven that started it all back on Sullivan Street. 

According to the Village Voice, “Beyond the salty, greasy cheese and heavily charcoal-kissed crust, it’s the piquancy of John’s sauce that remains the most remarkable thing about the offerings at this standard-bearer in the NYC pizza pantheon… With its faded murals and deeply worn wooden booths, the place is a museum.”

John’s doesn’t sell slices, but they will sell you a whole pie, which you will want to eat anyways.

In 1933 newlyweds Pasquale “Patsy’”  and Carmella Lancieri opened Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem at 2287-91 1st Avenue in 1933. Patsy’s  quickly established itself as a family style, old-fashioned neighborhood restaurant that catered to the growing population of Italian immigrants who longed for the cuisine of their homeland in a casual family style atmosphere. Also attracted were New Yorkers who wished to taste the new culinary expertise of the Italian immigrants. Almost immediately, the atmosphere, style and cuisine at Patsy’s Pizzeria began attracting many popular and famous personalities. Luminaries like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett became regulars. In addition, its prime uptown location made it a convenient stop for famous Yankees such as Phil Rizzutto, Joe Dimaggio and Yogi Berra. Patsy Lancieri had developed a huge following and East Harlem was now “the” place to go.

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In the early 1970’s, Patsy’s Pizzeria became the late-night haunt of Francis Ford Coppola who used it’s ambiance to shape his actor’s performances in his blockbuster film “The Godfather”. As a result, the restaurant has been used numerous times as a period location and backdrop for many movies, employing many East Harlem residents in the process.

Both Lombardi’s and Totonno’s used coal-fired ovens, as did John’s and   Patsy’s. All  four resturants are still open today. Di Fara Pizza, which opened in 1964 and has been run by Domenico DeMarco since then, serves what many believe to be the best pizza in New York City, a combination of New York and Neapolitan styles.

Characteristically, New York-style pizza is traditionally hand-tossed, consisting in its basic form of a light layer of tomato sauce sprinkled with dry, grated, full-fat mozzarella cheese; additional toppings like sausage and pepperoni  can be  placed over the cheese. Pies are typically around 18 inches (45 cm) in diameter, and commonly cut into 8 slices. These large wide slices are often eaten as fast food while folded in half (like one would fold a cardboard box) from the crust, as their size and flexibility can make them unwieldy to eat flat. Folding the slice also collects the abundant oil in the crease, and allows the slice to be eaten with one hand.

What few people know is that it is the water of New York that makes all difference in the taste of the iconic NYC pizza crust.

We take our water for granted.

Did you know that New York City is the nation’s largest municipal water supplier. I am not a Native New Yorker, but due to graduate school and employment, I have lived in upstate New York and New York City on and off for more than two decades. And like  many locals, I happily choose tap water at restaurants and extol the virtues of New York’s wettest best tasting water in the World. Yes Virigina,  you can taste the difference, trust me, I am a chemist after all.  I am sure that some people might wonder how and where the magic happens–even more so recently, in light of some other cities’ far less stellar experiences with the local water supply.and how 9.5 million people (and growing, apparently) can keep the good stuff flowing.

The source of this  fantastsically natural exilier  is derived from upstate.More than 90 percent of the New York City’s water supply comes from the Catskill/Delaware Watershed, which is about 125 miles north of NYC; the other 10 percent comes from the Croton watershed. The watershed sits on over a million acres, both publicly and privately owned, but highly regulated to make sure contaminants stay out of the water.

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So what really makes New York City water actually taste so good? Well, thanks in part to the geology of the Catskill Mountains, which have very little limestone rock, the city’s water contains low levels of bitter-tasting calcium. As a result, New York has delicious bagels and pizza crust.ideal pizza crust is thinner in the middle, with a rim that balloons slightly to give it that all important crunch. This is a basic “Big Apple” pizza dough that delivers that signature thin-crust, foldable slice New York is famous for.

For a New York Style pizza, the heavily-seasoned cooked tomato sauce is typically made of olive oil, canned tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and herbs like oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper, as opposed to the simple Neapolitan sauce, made from uncooked crushed tomatoes and salt. The cheese is always grated low-moisture mozzarella, not the fresh slices you’ll find on Neapolitan-style pizza.

Common condiments to put on top of a slice after it comes out of the oven include garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dried oregano, and grated Parmesan cheese.

We used the traditional tomato sauce and cheese toppings in this recipe, but please, feel free to use your favorite sauce and toppings and enjoy!

Makes Two 11-inch Pizzas

Ingredients:

For the Dough:
1 cup warm water,  about 105º F to 115º F
1/4-ounce package instant active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 cups​ Caputo 00 flour , plus more  as needed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the Sauce:
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic,finely minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon sugar

Toppings:
1 pound full-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

For serving:
Garlic powder
Crushed red pepper flakes
Dried oregano
Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Combine the water, yeast, sugar, and a 1/2 cup of the flour in a medium bowl. Stir well and let sit for 20 minutes. It will get bubbly.

Add the olive oil, salt, and 2 cups of the flour, and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a loose dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, while adding more flour a little at a time, to produce a soft, elastic and slightly sticky dough. Do not add too much flour, just enough to keep it from sticking to the work surface as you knead.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl. Drizzle a few drops of oil and coat the top of dough to prevent the surface from becoming dry.

Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Punch down the dough and divide into 2 balls and place in large zip lock plastic bags and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to use, remove from fridge, and let the dough come up to room temperature before using.

For the Sauce:
Feed tomatoes and their juices through a food mill or pulse in a food processor until pulverized into a chunky puree. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, until butter is melted. Add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano, 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, onion, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour. Add more salt if necessary. Remove and discard onion.

Let cool and store unused portion in a container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or pour into zip-top bags and freeze.

To make the pizzas:

Preheat the oven to 475 º F (245 º C). If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven as well, setting it on the lowest shelf.

You will need a 12-inch round pizza pan or a large baking sheet. Dark, heavy metal pans are the best to use because they absorb heat quickly and evenly and will produce a crisp, golden browned crust.

For each pizza, brush the pizza pan with a little olive oil. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. With floured hands, pat the dough into a 6-inch round. Stretch or roll the dough with a rolling pin into an 11-inch round. Lift the dough onto the prepared pan and press the dough to the edge of the pan.

Using a 6-ounce ladle, pour the sauce in the center of the prepared dough. Keeping the bottom of the ladle flat and without pushing down,  spread the sauce to the outside edge, using a spiral motion.leaving at least an 1/8 inch border while spreading the sauce consistently across the crust. There should be no large bare spots or heavy ridges of sauce.

Evenly distributed the cheeses on top of the sauce.

Bake pizzas one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted  bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. If you want, toward the end of the cooking time you can sprinkle on a little more cheese.

Cool for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Using a pizza cutter, slice each pizza in to 8 equal slices and serve with the desired condiments.

To eat a slice , place your forefinger of left or right hand in the center of the crust. Using the your thumb and remaing to make a solid fold. Turn the tip of hte pizza towards your mouth and take bite!

Cook’s Notes:
Caputo 00 flour is ideal for pizza dough for two reasons: one, it’s finely ground, and two, it has a lower gluten content than most flours. The “00” refers to the texture of the flour: Italian flours are classified by numbers according to how finely they are ground, from the roughest ground “tipo”1, to 0, and the finest 00. Gluten, the natural protein that remains when starch is removed from wheat grains, creates the elasticity you feel when you bite into a crunchy loaf of bread. The lower the protein content of the flour, the lower the gluten, and the lower the gluten, the less elasticity there will be in your dough (cake flour has the lowest gluten level). Gluten levels are controlled by selecting different strands of wheat for processing: high-gluten bread flour is made from wheat that has 14-15% gluten. Meanwhile, the Caputo 00 is made from a selection of the finest grains the Caputo family can find to give your dough just enough, but not too much, stretch at 12.5% gluten.

Bread flour is a suitable substitue if 00 flour is nor readliy available.

To make whole wheat pizza dough, substitute 2 cups of whole wheat flour for 2 cups of the bread flour and proceed as directed.

To make the pizza dough ahead, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in a zip-lock storage bag and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Use the dough directly from the refrigerator. To freeze, wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap, then put it into a zip-lock freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw the dough at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until pliable.

If you want to make your pizza more crispy, bake your pizza in the oven at its maximum temperature, usually ranging from 500 to 550 º F (260 to 290 ºC). Bake the pizza for 9 to 12 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

 

 

Sources:
Cohen, Michelle. 2016. “NYC Water 101: From the Catskill Aqueduct and Robotic Measurements to Your Tap.” 6ftsq: CITY LIVING, TECHNOLOGY, URBAN DESIGN.Date Accessed May 26, 2019. https://www.6sqft.com/nyc-water-101-from-the-catskill-aqueduct-and-robotic-measurements-to-your-tap/

Gilbert, Sara. 2005. “New York Pizza: is the water the secret?”Slashfood. Weblogs, Inc.

Jackson, Kenneth T.  et al.   2010 . The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Keohane, Jo. 2011. 00 FLOUR IS BEST FOR MAKING PIZZA:Caputo 00 flour is the test kitchen’s favorite for pizza crust. Saveur Magazine. Date Accessed May 26, 2019. https://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Best-Flour-for-Making-Pizza

Mitzewich, John. 2018. “New York Style Pizza Dough.”  The The Spruce Eats. Date Accessed May 26, 2019. https://www.thespruceeats.com/new-york-style-pizza-dough-recipe-101630h

New York City 2018 Drinking Water Supply & Quality Report. New York City Environmental Protection. Date Accessed May 26, 2019. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dep/about/drinking-water-supply-quality-report.page

Otis, Ginger Adams et. al.  2010. New York City Lonely Planet City Guide. New York City: Lonely Planet.

Swerdloff, Alex. 2016 . “What the Price of a Slice of Pizza Can Tell You About New York”. Munchies.vice.com.

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New York Style Cheesecake

 

 

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This month, we a continuing to showcase the food of New York with this recipe for New York Style Cheesecake.

Contrary to popular belief, the first “cheese cake” may have been created 4,000 years ago on the Greek island of Samos and not in New York City. In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy, and there is evidence that it was served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. When the Romans conquered Greece circa 146 B.C., the cheesecake recipe was just one spoil of war. They added their own spin on the recipe including crushed cheese and eggs. The Romans called their cheese cake “libuma” and they served it on special occasions. Marcus Cato (234 – 139 B.C,), a Roman politician in the first century BC, is credited as recording the oldest known Roman cheesecake recipe. The writer Athenaeus is credited for writing the only known surviving Greek recipe for cheesecake in 230 A.D.

As the Romans expanded their empire, they brought cheesecake recipes to Europe around 1000 AD. Great Britain and Eastern Europe began experimenting with ways to put their own unique spin on cheesecake. Cheesecakes were also flourishing throughout Scandinavia and northwestern Europe.

propertitle-lgIn Europe, the recipes started taking on different cultural shapes, using ingredients native to each region. A cookbook entitled “A Propre new booke of Cokery” (1545) was printed in London during the Renaissance and it described cheesecake as a flour-based sweet food.

It was not until the 18th century, however, that cheesecake would start to look like something we recognize in the United States today. In the 18th century, Europeans began to use beaten eggs instead of yeast to make their breads and cakes rise. Removing the overpowering yeast flavor made cheesecake taste more like a dessert treat. When Europeans immigrated to America, some brought their cheesecake recipes along.

Many foods that Americans have come to regard as uniquely “American”, are Jewish originating from the Ashkenazi. Because of the Jewish dietary restrictions (Kashruth), the restriction on serving meat and dairy products at the same meal gave rise to a set of traditional dairy dishes including blintzes, cheesecake, and noodle pudding. The concept of delicatessens also came to the United States in the mid-19th century with a new influx of European immigrants.

In 1888, Katz’s Deli was the first Jewish American delicatessen to open in New York City. The popularity of delicatessens that specialized in kosher food spread throughout American culture with the help of the Ashkenazi. As delicatessens began to spring up in many Jewish communities they locally became known as “delis” as they proved even popular with the general public.

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Photo Credit: Katz Delli circa 1920s.  Marvin Padover and Marlene Katz Padover

 

Cream cheese was an American addition to the cake, and it has since becomehistory_cont_1872_new.jpg a staple ingredient in the United States. It was invented in 1872 by American dairyman William Lawrence of Chester, New York, who accidentally developed a method of producing cream cheese while trying to reproduce a French cheese called Neufchatel. In 1880 Lawrence started distributing his cream cheese in foil wrappers under the name of the Empire Cheese Co. of South Edmeston, New York, where he manufactured the product. He called his cheese Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, now a famous trademark. Lawrence adopted ‘Philadelphia’  as the brand name, after the city that was considered at the time to be the home of top quality food, including ice cream….but that is another story for another time. 

In 1903, the Phoenix Cheese Co. of New York bought the business and with it the Philadelphia trademark. The brand was bought by the Kraft Cheese Co. in 1928. Kraft Foods still owns and produces Philadelphia Cream Cheese today.James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, which led to the development of pasteurized Philadelphia Brand cream cheese. It is now the most popular cheese used for making cheesecake today.

By the 1900s, New Yorkers were in love with cheesecake. Nearly every restaurant had its own version of the dessert on their menus.

 

 

arnoldreuben1946-2By the 1920s, the deli became a celebrated gathering place in Jewish and American life and the signature sandwiches were a standard. Sandwiches like the overstuffed pastrami or corned beef on rye was popular choice in Jewish American delicatessens — becoming a hallmark of an iconic New York institution. Even though he is best known for his resturants and signature sandwiches, Jewish-German immigrant Arnold Reuben (1883-1970) is generally credited for creating the New York Style cheesecake in 1929. The story goes that Reuben was invited to a dinner party where the hostess served a cheese pie. Allegedly, he was so intrigued by this dish that he experimented with the recipe until he developed the beloved New York Style cheesecake. New Yorkers have vied for bragging rights for having the original recipe ever since.

As all food lovers know, New York is not the only place in America that puts its own spin on cheesecakes. In Chicago, sour cream is added to the recipe to keep it creamy. Meanwhile, Philadelphia cheesecake is known for being lighter and creamier than New York style cheesecake and it can be served with fruit or chocolate toppings. In St. Louis, they enjoy a gooey butter cake, which has an additional layer of cake topping on the cheesecake filling. Even around the  World, every country  has its own take on the best way to make the dessert. For example, the Italians use ricotta cheese, while the Greeks use mizithra or feta. Germans prefer cottage cheese, while the Japanese use a combination of cornstarch and egg whites. There are specialty cheesecakes that include blue cheese, seafood, spicy chilies and even tofu! In spite of all the variations, the popular dessert’s main ingredients – cheese, wheat and a sweetener –remain the same.

No matter how you slice it, cheesecake is truly a dessert that has stood the test of time. From its earliest recorded beginnings on Samos over 4,000 years ago to its current iconic status around the world this creamy cake remains a favorite for sweet tooths of all ages.

 

Makes 1 9-inch cheesecake, Serving 8 to 10

Ingredients:
For the Crust:
1 ¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
½ stick unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:
Four 8-ounce packages Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Fresh fruit, for garnish

 

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 º F.

To make the crust: In a large bowl, add the crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Blend until a sandy texture is achieved.

Evenly spoon the crumb mixture into a 9-inch springform pan, halfway up, pressing down the sides and bottom firmly making the crust adhere to the pan.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and then bake the crust until set, for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.

To make the filling:  In a large bowl add 1 package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch together and using an electric mixer, beat on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining sugar, then the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in the cream just until completely blended.

Gently pour the filling into the prepared crust.

Prepare a ban-marie (water bath). Place the cake pan in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes approximately 1 inch up the side of the springform pan.

Bake until the edge is light golden brown, the top is light gold, and the center barely jiggles, about 1 1/4 hours.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and transfer to a wire rack, and let cool for 2 hours undisturbed. While remaining in the springfrom pan, cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, for 24 hours.

On the following day, remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator and unmold from the springform pan. Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with fruit if desired.

Cook’s Notes:
In slicing the cheesecake, use a sharp straight-edge knife, not a serrated one, to get a clean cut. Be sure to rinse the knife with warm water between slices. Refrigerate any leftover cake, tightly covered, and enjoy within 2 days, or wrap and freeze it  for up to 1 month.

 

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Kentucky Transparent Pie

kentucky pie
Photo Credit: Spruce Eats, 2017.

I am a Southerner with a sweet tooth and Kentucky Transparent Pie fits the bill as a custard pie that is a sweet as it can get as a dessert. Similar to a chess pie, buttermilk pie, vinegar pie or sugar pie, this version of the pie is made with half brown sugar and half granulated sugar. Many of Kentucky’s pies feature bourbon, one of their most famous exports and I am sure that you could slip a dram or two into your pie if you desire. Basically, the simple combination of ingredients makes a filling to die for!

The most well known Kentucky Transparent Pie can be found at Magee’s Bakery in Lexington, Kentucky. Usually around Thanksgiving, there is a rush for the pie found on the bakery shelves. Maysville, Kentucky is about 70 miles northeast of Lexington, and is the home of the original Magee’s Bakery, which opened in the 1930s. Magee’s is known for popularizing the Transparent Pie.

Although the pie is not “transparent” the pie filling is really just a pale shade of yellow.

In terms of culinary history, Transparent Pie goes way back to the frontier days, where families made pies using whatever pantry goods they had on hand. They had no refrigeration in those days, and these pies did not have to be refrigerated. It was determined many years ago, that Transparent Pie originated in Kentucky, and not just anywhere in Kentucky, but in the Maysville Kentucky area. Transparent Pie is a very well-known pie in Maysville area, although it is not well-known to many people, even in the most populous parts of Kentucky.

While the attention-grabbing name is unique — and first started appearing in Kentucky newspaper advertisements and articles in the 1890s — food historian Sarah Baird says the dessert actually closely resembles pies from other regions of the United States. While a pie crust is the ideal vessel for just about anything edible, in Kentucky, nuts and chocolate reign king among pie fillings. Sugary custard pies also have their own special place in Kentucky culinary history. Transparent pie, buttermilk pie, vinegar pie, sugar pie and Jefferson Davis Pie, all made with the basic ingredients, these pies are all comparable in recipe and method, but have a distinctness and regional popularity that is all their own.

Throughout much of the Appalachian Mountains and certainly into the eastern parts of Kentucky, chess pie is a potluck essential. Most food historians believe that the word chess is simply slang for English cheese pie filling. Others say that the word is “chest,” spoken with a Southern drawl, because these sugary pies could be stored in a pie chest rather than being refrigerated. And yet others believe it to be a run-on version of the words “just pie.” Because of its simple ingredients (eggs, sugar and butter) with no added nuts, fruits or candies, it is “jes’ pie” or chess pie.

Jefferson Davis Pie is also popular throughout the South but had a historical presence at Berea College’s well-known Southern inn, the Boone Tavern, throughout the mid-1900s. Richard T. Hougen, manager of the inn, was said to have taught all Boone Tavern pastry chefs how to make Jefferson Davis Pie for hotel guests and visiting dignitaries to enjoy. Wherein chess pie and Jefferson Davis Pie can be found throughout the Deep South, Kentucky claims the transparent pie as their very own.

“When you go into Indiana you have sugar pies,” Baird says. “It’s kind of a kissing-cousin of shoofly pie, which is in Pennsylvania.”

Baird also mentions chess pies, originally found in New England, and Southern buttermilk pies. All of these have the same simple sugary liquid filling that is baked down in a shell.

Baird did some in-depth research on the origin of the transparent pie for her book Kentucky Sweets. She thinks part of its original popularity — and the popularity of similar variations — was due to its accessibility to rural families.

“What everyone in my research kept coming back to over and over is that it’s a pie that doesn’t require something expensive like pecans,” Baird says. “They are kind of farm ingredients, right? You are going to have all those ingredients in the pantry or on the farm. You can go get the eggs, you will have the cream.”

She says the actual origin of the transparent name is still kind of a mystery — but it’s something that is definitely unique to the Maysville area.

McGeesTransparentPie-13_FotorMagee’s Bakery concocted the recipe for this silky, custard pie. The bakery, located on Market Street, has been making these pies for over 60 years. They make regular size pie and portable small tarts. And according to social media, these little transparent tarts are the favorite pie of actor George Clooney, who grew up in Augusta, Kentucky, who always sings the praises of Transparent Pie. Clooney, not only travels to Maysville to purchase Transparent tarts and pies, but has bought them to share at movie sets and television studios with his crew and colleagues ……but then again, they are probably the favorite pie of anyone who grew up in the Maysville area!

Makes 1 Pie, Serves 8

Ingredients:
For the Pastry:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (granulated)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (chilled or frozen, cut into small pieces)
3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water

For the Filling:
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped Cream, for serving

Directions:
In a food processor pulse the flour, salt, and sugar until well blended. Add half of the butter and pulse about 6 times. Add the remaining butter and pulse 5 or 6 times. The mixture should look crumbly with pea-sized pieces here and there. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of ice water over the flour mixture and pulse a few times. Add more ice water, a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture begins to form small clumps.

Toss the mixture out onto a floured surface and press and shape with your hands until the dough holds together. Don’t overwork the dough. Shape it into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 450° F (230° C/Gas 8).

Roll the chilled dough out about 2 inches bigger than the pie plate (upside-down). Fit it into the pie plate and crimp the edge as desired. Line the pie shell (do not prick the dough) with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Bake the pie shell for 8 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights, return it to the oven, and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove the crust to a baking sheet and reduce the oven temperature to 350 °F (180° C/Gas 4).

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar, flour, melted butter, cream, salt, and vanilla. Blend well. Pour the filling mixture into the crust. Place a pie shield over the crust edge to prevent excessive browning. Transfer the pie to the 350 F oven (baking sheet and all) and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the pie shield and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until set.

Cool on a rack and then chill thoroughly in a refrigerator before serving.

Slice the chilled pie and serve it, topped with freshly whipped cream.

Cook’s Note:
If you choose to use a pre-made frozen crust or refrigerated pastry, follow the instructions for partially baking the pie shell. Even though you can bake the pie with an unbaked crust, a par-baked crust is recommended to avoid a soggy bottom.